Sean Lewis has led SDSU’s football program for two weeks. In that time, he has energized the fan base and brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to campus. His hire triggered a plethora of articles, interviews, and conversations about the main tenant at Snapdragon Stadium.
Despite the outpouring of media content announcing this new era on The Mesa, Lewis is still relatively unknown to San Diego. Among all that has been written or said about him, the best insight into why athletic director JD Wicker brought Lewis in to lead the Aztecs comes from over 2,000 miles away from America’s Finest City.
Heralded prep QB Danny O’Neil, a QB from Indianapolis, spoke to EVT on Monday night and shined a light on Lewis and their special bond.
“(Lewis) can teach me a lot in football, obviously,” O’Neil explained. “But I think he’s also going to help coach me through life. He carries himself in a tremendous way. Being through all the stuff that he has gone through recently and the way he carried himself through everything. He’s just a family guy, and there’s a lot to learn from him, and being around him is great so far. And the opportunity to be around him more, for the next three, four, five years, is definitely something that that I would like to do.”
Lewis first made contact with O’Neil nearly a year ago. With offers to play across the country, O’Neil had seen and heard nearly everything college recruiters can throw at an athlete. In that sea of noise and cookie-cutter techniques, Lewis’ approach to his craft stood out.
With infectious energy and genuine care, Lewis built a relationship with O’Neil. In January, Lewis’ offered the young signal caller a scholarship to play at the University of Colorado. Not his first offer, but his best because of his connection with Lewis, O’Neil committed to the Buffaloes in March.
Lewis’ belief in O’Neil’s talent and potential was clear. With the notoriety Deion Sanders brought to Boulder, Lewis had access to any living room in America. That he gave O’Neil a committable offer so soon and stopped his recruitment of QBs in the Class of 2024 spoke volumes.
Their relationship continued to flourish through O’Neil’s official visit in June and the start of the season. Lewis’ offense thrived until inexplicably Sanders demoted Lewis, taking the play-calling away from his offensive coordinator. Reflecting the bond they had formed, Lewis kept O’Neil abreast of everything occurring in Colorado so O’Neil could make the best decision for his future.
“It’s kind of unfortunate how it all shut down,” O’Neil said. “I thought it was going to be a great fit with me playing in his system up in Boulder. He was in constant communication with me, updating me with everything that was going on. So, I really knew everything that was going to happen before everyone else did.”
“Even through that, he was not as much worried about me coming and him keeping my commitment to Colorado. He was almost telling me to do the best thing for myself, and that’s not too common with college coaches. They always want you to stay committed, but he really wanted what was best for me. Hearing that come from him, it was definitely a sure sign of everything that I already knew about him.”
At Lewis’ introductory press conference, Wicker said he only had one in-person and a pair of Zoom meetings before making the hire. What SDSU’s administration saw in such a short time was the same quality that inspired O’Neil back in January. That consistency of character separates Lewis from many in the profession.
This episode also reflects well on O’Neil. For a young person to value, a mentor above the glitz and glamor of NIL or fame shows he is wise beyond his years.
Danny O’Neil seeing the football field through Sean Lewis’ eyes
Lewis is hoping the last year pays off with O’Neil joining him at SDSU. O’Neil said he is considering the Aztecs, Northwestern, and Miami as his finalists. Only a three-hour drive from his home, he visited Northwestern earlier in the year. He might see what the Hurricanes have to offer with a visit beginning on Friday. Last weekend, O’Neil took in the sights at SDSU as part of Lewis’ first official visit weekend.
“It was a really good time,” O’Neil said. “I enjoyed myself out there. Me and my family, we really just liked everything that they had to offer. Me and my family knew we were going to like the staff. Obviously knowing Coach Lew for a long time, but getting to meet and talk to Coach (Matt) Johnson, the quarterback coach, was another good thing, and (we) really clicked with him. He’s a really good coach. So, definitely, a good trip.”
QB Kyle Crum hosted O’Neil. Crum and his roommate, TE Logan Tanner, made a favorable impression. O’Neil had never been to San Diego before but was in Los Angeles for the Elite 11 Finals in June. There, he met WR Will Cianfrini, who also tripped to SDSU this weekend.
When O’Neil saw Cianfrini on Friday, he said his first thought was, “Wait, that’s the guy that made all these ridiculous catches at the Elite 11. It was a full-circle moment just seeing him there.”
Among all the positives, Lewis once again stuck out most for O’Neil. SDSU’s head coach will also call the offensive plays. Having planned to play in Lewis’ system for nearly a year, O’Neil knows Lewis’ offense better than most.
“Fast is what everyone would describe it as,” O’Neil explained. “It’s complex, but the coaches break it down in such a way that they make it easy for the offense and just allows us to go out there, go through our reads and play fast.”
“Really, just the way that he empowers the quarterback, gives them the keys to be able to see the game through his eyes. That’s a big thing that me and him were talking about over the weekend just being able to see the game through his eyes and see what he’s seeing. Know why he’s making certain calls. He’s definitely had a connection between play-caller and quarterback. He’s been putting up points for years now, (I’m) just excited to possibly be the next guy to do that with him.”
Lewis has a high bar of finding a signal caller who can see the game through his eyes. If O’Neil can be coached to do that, his obvious skill he has will shine. O’Neil can make every throw, extend plays with his feet, participate in the QB run game, and competes on every down.
Northwestern offers O’Neil an elite education and the chance to play close to home. Miami offers a great location and the opportunity to be surrounded by world-class athletes at every position. SDSU offers Lewis. Seeing him through O’Neil’s eyes, it just might be enough for the Aztecs.
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.